UNIVERSITY PARK — The iconic Nittany Lion statue looks more at home now.
The Nittany Lion Shrine, closed to the public since May for a renovation and beautification project, reopened Thursday, two days ahead of the first home football game of 2013.
Gone is the mound of mulch that circled the base of the shrine.
Instead, it sits on a base of Pennsylvania stone and is surrounded by a brown, gravel-like epoxy. Other stonework, for seating or steps, has been meshed into the design.
Other important additions are a handicap-accessible ramp around the shrine and LED lighting.
“We believe this is going to give the lion the kind of dignity, context and environment it deserves as one of the most photographed destinations in central Pennsylvania,” said Gordon Turow, the director of campus planning and design, at the shrine site Thursday.
The work to the site was the gift to the university from the class of 2012, and the shrine itself was a gift from the class of 1940.
The project began immediately after graduation weekend in May, and crews continued all summer. The shrine had been sealed off from the public the whole time, except for the summer graduation, when the university opened it so graduates could have the statue a place for photos.
The intent behind the project was to create a better, more contextual habitat for the statue, said Derek Kalp, a landscape architect in the Office of Physical Plant who worked extensively on the project.
That was realized by using stone from Mount Nittany and the Bald Eagle ridge on the site’s steps, walkway and walls. Those stone pieces, from private property owners or quarries, were cut, chiseled, ground or whatever needed to be done to piece them together for the site, Kalp said.
The masonry was done by Philip Hawk and Co., of State College.
The trees and shrubs at the site come from the mid-Atlantic area, and the goal, Kalp said, was to create an environment using ornamental native plants. The plants were chosen because they’ll look their best when they bloom in the spring, for graduation photos, and in the fall, when leaves change colors.
The site’s enhanced lighting comes by way of the expertise of William Kenyon, a professor in the university’s theater school. Kalp said Kenyon pointed them to lights that would give the site a more theatrical and dramatic effect.
As a result, the lighting is set such that it’s optimal for photography in the early evening hours. From 9 p.m. to midnight, it’ll be lit for theatrical effect, and from midnight to dawn, the lighting will be at a higher intensity as a security measure, Kalp said.
In the few hours after the shrine opened Thursday, students swung by for a gander at the site. They snapped and posed for photos using their smartphones, and they took turns taking pictures for one another.
First-year student Leah Laughlin stopped by in the early afternoon and shot a photo of herself.
She’d wanted a picture at the shrine for the first day of classes last week, but the site hadn’t been opened. Two weeks into the semester didn’t bother her, though.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Laughlin, who’s from the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. “I love it. They did a great job.”
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.